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Bank Holiday (1938)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Bank Holiday (1938)
35mm, black and white, 86 mins
DirectorCarol Reed
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerEdward Black
ScreenplayRodney Ackland, Roger Burford
StoryHans Wilhelm, Rodney Ackland
PhotographyArthur Crabtree
Music DirectorLouis Levy

Cast: John Lodge (Stephen Howard); Margaret Lockwood (Nurse Catherine); Hugh Williams (Geoffrey); Rene Ray (Doreen); Merle Tottenham (Milly); Wally Patch (Arthur); Kathleen Harrison (May)

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Various people set off on an August bank holiday, including a raucous Cockney family, a would-be beauty queen, and two young lovers - whose relationship starts to come apart when one has to deal with a bereavement at the hospital where she works.

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Loosely modelled on one of the decade's biggest Hollywood hits, Grand Hotel (US, 1932), Carol Reed's film follows the varying fortunes of a disparate group of Londoners who all decide to converge on the fictional Bexborough seaside resort during a sweltering bank holiday. Although in essence it's a lightweight romantic melodrama with comic elements, it also provides a fascinating glimpse of the leisure activities of various British social classes, its value as a historical document enhanced by the extensive use of location shooting.

The central story concerns the triangular relationship of the recently bereaved Stephen (John Loder), hospital nurse Catherine (Margaret Lockwood) and her boyfriend Geoffrey (Hugh Williams). Catherine and Geoffrey are off for a dirty weekend on the South Coast, but it's clear that her mind is elsewhere. Although she pretends that her preoccupation with Stephen is purely to do with professional concern for his mental well-being, she is constantly fantasising about him, most memorably during a nocturnal interlude on a beach strewn with sleeping bodies.

Amongst these are would-be beauty contestant Doreen (Rene Ray) and her best friend Milly (Merle Tottenham), proudly flying the flag for what was then the predominantly working-class borough of Fulham - though their own romantic and emotional preoccupations are ultimately more important than the burning desire to put one over on snobbish Miss Mayfair (Jeanne Stewart).

They frequently cross paths with the raucous Cockney family headed by Arthur (Wally Patch) and May (Kathleen Harrison), and although the film has come in for some criticism for treating them as figures of fun, their vocabulary provides a rich illustration of their lifestyle, with its references to ginger pop and 'beach pyjamas' and their class- consciousness: when May briefly dances with 'college boy' Geoffrey, Arthur is more concerned about his wife seemingly having ideas above her station than he is about her dancing with another man in the first place.

Indeed, the film's attitude towards human desires is refreshingly non-judgemental for the time - possibly a side-effect of Reed himself being the product of an extra-marital liaison. Geoffrey (already rattled after glimpsing a poster for 'Sinners - Love Was Their Only Crime!') is so convinced that the Grand Hotel will raise moral objections to their visit that he takes overly elaborate steps to feign marriage to Catherine, but the desk staff are more amused than outraged when some careless slip-ups reveal his deception: they will certainly have seen it all before.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. At the station (2:33)
2. At the hotel (3:11)
3. On the beach (3:37)
4. Catherine's decision (2:36)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
All Day on the Sands (1979)
Crabtree, Arthur (1900-75)
Lockwood, Margaret (1916-1990)
Reed, Carol (1906-1976)